The Dutch Girls Revisited
July 30 - Rotterdam, Holland
This is the story of spending 10 days in Holland without setting foot in Amsterdam. I don’t know how many travelers have managed this feat, but now I have and this is why:
The Dutch girls had driven home to Rotterdam and resumed their lives while I toured Copenhagen and Brussels. The countries around here are small and it was only a couple hours on the train from Brussels to Rotterdam where Amber picked me up at the station. “It’s weird to see you here in my home,” Amber said.
Amber’s family wanted to meet “the American,” so we walked over to her sister’s apartment and answered the burning question her parents and siblings had waited to ask.
“So, Brook, can you ride a bike?”
Americans drive cars, they thought; Dutch ride bikes. “Yes,” I promised, “I can ride a bike.”
They must not have been totally convinced because when Amber and I rode off to her house her family stood on the side of the road watching me peddle away.
Amber’s house is not squatted. “Our old house was squatted,” she explained. “But the owners of this house asked us to move in. It was empty and they thought if no one lived here junkies would come and it would be a drug house so they asked us to stay here.”
There is no rent for the five-bedroom, four story apartment; they only pay utilities. There are big windows, creaky floorboards, and lots of space. There is an over-abundance of fleas. If there was rent to pay, fleas and cockroaches would be cause for complaint but there is no rent. Not even for the American who holes up for 10 days in an empty bedroom.
The Dutch girls did a convenient thing in anticipation of my arrival: they all broke up with their boyfriends. This isn’t exactly true because Hilde broke up with her’s a while ago and Ella still has one but he lives outside the city. The net effect though was they had free time to go to cafes and parks and bars. “I think you think we always hang out with each other,” Ella said as we all hung out with each other. “But this isn’t normally the case, we have other friends.”
Sometimes Amber would be waitressing and I’d have dinner with Hilde, or Ella would be waitressing and I’d get drinks with Amber, or Hilde would be waitressing I’d sit at my computer in the house that isn’t squatted and work on the documentary.
At night you get on your bikes and ride into town. “The tram stops running at 1am so if you want to stay out you have to ride your bike,” Amber explained. Even during the day no one takes the tram, everyone rides their bike. (Getting a driving license in Holland is such a time and money intensive process that many people can’t drive anyway).
You get to the club and chain your bikes to the fence. Inside everyone knows everyone and you aren’t traveling anymore, you’re just out at a bar on a Friday night and that’s a nice change. Some nights there are home cooked meals, or wine on the patio, or movies projected onto a big white wall in the house that isn’t squatted. There are jobs and ex-boyfriends to deal with and it’s more like real life.
At the end of the night there are two of you to share one bike. She pedals and you sit side-saddle on the metal bar behind the seat. You cruise through town on the faded-red bike path. This isn’t the night you race home across the bridge, or fall asleep together on the couch watching Forrest Gump. This isn’t the night you drink Grolsh at the outdoor tables, or the other night you drink Grolsh at the outdoor tables. This isn’t the night you project video of singing karaoke in Copenhagen onto the wall or the night you cooked dinner and said goodbye. This is the night you rode home side-saddle on her bike, chained it up outside the rent-less apartment, and creaked up the stairs to your room.